KENNEDY: California Racers Hall Of Fame Night

Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The annual California Racers Hall of Fame Night at Perris Auto Speedway was a rousing success Aug. 17.

The 410 sprinbt car event awarded USAC-CRA and USAC Southwest championship points. Ten cars from Arizona towed to Perris and increased the car count to a season-high 30 sprinters for the 11th USAC-CRA race of the year and sixth at Perris. Seven Arizona cars made the 22-car main event.

Grandstand attendance was the most this season, showing fans know this lucrative race is second only to the annual Budweiser Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction. It will be held for the 24th time from Nov. 7-9. The Saturday 40-lap feature will pay the top three finishers $7,500, $3,500 and $2,000.

What makes the California Racers Hall of Fame Night special is the additional money collected by Perris infield announcer Chris Holt each year from numerous fans and companies. He told me racers this year, in addition to the regular purse, will receive more than $15,000 in Hall of Fame Night donated cash.

Additional money this year came from the following:

  • Bill Simpson – $1,500 to the 30-lap feature winner in honor of the late USAC Silver Crown Junior Kurtz, owner of the Plastic Express No. 30. His long-time winning driver Chuck Gurney was in the PAS pits to honor Junior. That donation added to the regular $2,500 winner’s purse and ensured the winner (Jake Swanson) would surpass $4,000.
  • Michele Kurtz, widow of Junior, also attended. She again posted $100 for the feature winner and her usual $2,000 for the unique Junior Kurtz Trophy Dash (four 3-lap races). Each of the four fastest qualifiers started a 3-lap dash from each of the four starting positions. Points were awarded 3-2-1-0 as in AMA speedway bike racing. The dash winner was the driver with the most points; he received $1,000. There were three different winners of the four three-lap dashes. J. Swanson won twice (from starting spots three and two) and won with 10 points. Richard Vander Weerd and Austin Williams each won a dash after starting from third position and tied with five points. Brody Roa was fourth with four points.
  • The Woodland family awarded $500 to the main event second place finisher in memory of Catherine Woodland.
  • Anne Wilkerson, widow of two-time CRA champions and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Billy Wilkerson, added $500 for the tenth annual B.Wilkerson Fastest Qualifier Award.
  • Retired driver Lealand McSpadden and his wife Janet organized the Ellen Ellis Hard Charger Award that more than doubled the announced $1,000 award. (Winner- Austin Liggett received $2,700).
  • Feature Lap Money ($100 per lap for the race leader) topped $6,000. Some laps paid $200, $250 or $500. Many laps had more than one donor and laps 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 21, 22, 25 and 30 paid additional money to the race leader. Lap fund donors specified laps to honor living persons or in memory of deceased persons. The big financial winner was Swanson, who won the Kurtz dash, the 30-lap feature, and $1,050+ in lap prize money for a $4,550+ payday. Liggett ‘s inspired run from 22nd starting to eighth position (+14 positions) earned the entire $2,700 Hard Charger Award. He was shocked, and told spectators, “That is more money than I get when I win a 360 sprint or midget main event.”

The Aug. 17 feature was one of the best since the track opened in 1996. The race had five leaders and five lead changes during the 20-minute event that had three caution flags for two spins and a stall. Racers used outside and inside grooves. Leaders were: second starter Cody Williams (1-8), seventh starter Damion Gardner, (9), sixth starter Vander Weerd (10-14), fourth starter Roa (15-23), and fifth starter Swanson. Winner Swanson became the seventh different USAC-CRA feature winner this season in the 11th race of a scheduled 23 race season.

Pole starter Tommy Malcolm was second on lap two in the second turn when he biked his car and spun in the low groove. Swanson could not avoid contact, bent some metal on his No. 34az DRC chassis, and spun out. He restarted the second lap in 22nd position and was spectacular during the final 29 laps.

Swanson carved his way forward quickly. On lap nine he was tenth and at lap 13 ninth using the inside groove while others chose the cushion. He was in seventh (lap 15), fourth (lap 17), third (lap 20), second (lap 23) and first on lap 24.

Liggett was a deserving hard charger cash winner for starting last and gaining 14 positions. Swanson started third and had to go to the back (22nd) because he stopped after a spinout he could not avoid. He was not eligible for the hard charger cash that was based upon original starting position. Swanson passed 21 cars from the lap two restart to the lap 30 checkered flag. Noteworthy is the fact all 22 starters finished and 15 were on the lead lap.

The feature position-swapping battle among the top four drivers from laps 9-13 was fantastic. Gardner passed leader C. Williams on the outside at start/finish to lead lap 9 over Williams, R. Vander Weerd and Roa. Lap 10 – Vanderweerd led Gardner, Williams and Roa. Lap 11 – Vander Weerd led Williams, Roa and Gardner. Lap 12 – Vanderweerd paced Roa, Gardner, C. Williams with A. Williams a close fifth.

Gardner stalled on lap 13 with a flat left-rear tire (from contact by another car). He had it changed under caution and restarted at the back. The restart order was Vanderweerd, Roa, C. Williams, A. Williams, Sussex and Faria nose-to-tail. Lap 13 – Vanderweerd led Roa, Faria, A. Williams, C. Williams and Sussex. Lap 14 had A. Williams take third from Faria as drivers passed inside and outside.

Roa took the lead from Vanderweerd on lap 15 with A. Williams, Faria, Sussex, C. Williams and charging Swanson seventh. Swanson was fourth on lap 17, and third a lap later. On lap 23 Swanson took second from Vanderweerd as Gardner passed two cars to reach 11th. Swanson used the inside groove and passed Roa on lap 24 for the lead he retained ro the end. It was his third USAC-CRA career victory and first feature triumph at Perris. Vanderweerd took second from Roa on lap 29. Faria and A. Williams completed the top five in the action-packed race.

A tally of main event lap money showed C. Williams earned $2,800 (including two bonus money laps), Roa took $2,100, Swanson won $1,050, Vanderweerd earned $700, and Gardner received $100.

Swanson, 26, has been dating race driver Jessica Clark, 25, for seven years. She raced Ford Focus midgets, stock cars, modifieds, midgets and and dwarf cars. They wed in February this year. Clark was not present for Swanson’s huge Perris victory. She was in Oregon racing the No. 92N dwarf car at four speedways in the Oregon Nationals. She made all four main events and finished seventh in points with 45 drivers present.